A smile can say a lot – such as whether you’re a hockey player

DALLAS – Sometimes, what’s missing can tell you a lot about somebody.

“If you walk down the street and smile, and people see missing teeth, they assume you’re a hockey player,” Dallas Stars defenseman Richard Matvichuk said. “It’s part of the image. You’ve got cracked teeth or broken noses.”

Hockey is one of the few sports in which team dentists routinely work home games. Pucks, sticks and punches make the mouth susceptible to damage. Some players consider it part of the job and are proud to show their missing teeth. Others don’t want any part of dentures and dentists.

Here are some of the Stars’ stories:

– Stars defenseman John Erskine’s front teeth didn’t last long in his hockey career. At his first junior training camp, Erskine dropped the gloves and was punched hard enough in the mouth that the teeth hit the ice. The dentist attempted to save the teeth but was unsuccessful.

“There’s a plate I can wear that makes it look like I have the front teeth, but I don’t wear it much,” Erskine said. “Why wear it while I play? It could come out and hurt me. And I don’t really care. I’ll wait until my career is over to have any other serious work done.”

Despite the loss of teeth, Erskine doesn’t wear a mouth guard.

“I’ve lost the two that matter anyway,” Erskine said.

– Stars captain Mike Modano claims he never wanted braces. But his mother tells a different story.

“He wanted them because he wanted his teeth fixed,” Karen Modano said. “They had to pull some teeth to make room for the others.”

So Modano played junior hockey in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, with braces. He wore them for two or three years and never lost a tooth. He still hasn’t lost one playing hockey.

“If he lost a tooth, I think he would be devastated, he really would,” said Modano’s father, Mike Sr.

Modano said he doesn’t understand why more players aren’t wearing mouth guards. Modano has worn one since he started playing.

“Some guys say they can’t breathe, but that’s not true,” Modano said. “You have to get used to it. Why would someone want to lose teeth if they didn’t have to?”

– Some players want no part of the dentist’s chair. Count Stu Barnes among them.

It’s not that he fears the dentist. He just doesn’t like the idea of drills and other tools in his mouth.

Barnes has been lucky in that regard. When Barnes chipped two or three teeth during an exhibition game before the season, it was the closest he had ever come to losing teeth.

“It’s got to be luck,” said Barnes, who said he wears a mouth guard not only for his teeth but to help prevent serious concussions. “Let’s not talk about the dentist. I don’t want to have to go back there.”

Barnes then found some wood in his locker and knocked on it.

“Don’t jinx me,” he said.

He doesn’t have a face that fans would recognize, but Dr. Wayne Scott, the Stars’ team dentist, attends nearly every home game.

Scott has been the Stars’ dentist since the team arrived in Dallas in 1993 and has dealt with everything from teeth cleanings to extensive oral surgery. Many times Scott does some quick repair work just to get players back on the ice. After the game, he’ll do what he can to permanently fix the problem.

So which player hates the dentist chair the most?

“I won’t name names on the current team, but Ulf Dahlen didn’t like it,” Scott said, referring to the former Stars forward. “He talked about wanting to get some work done but never showed. The ones that don’t want to be seen, I haven’t seen.”

Scott is still trying to get more players to wear mouth guards, which he can custom fit. He said there’s no proof that a guard prevents concussions, but it may reduce their frequency and severity.

Defenseman Richard Matvichuk lost his front teeth in a fight about eight seasons ago. Matvichuk said he doesn’t remember who hit him, but now he’s stuck with a bunch of fake teeth. “Why wear a mouth guard when they’re not even real?” Matvichuk asked.

Steve Ott’s mother would not be happy with him. After Ott took a shot to his mouth during a fight, some teeth were pushed back into his mouth. He had to have a root canal as well as repair work on some cracked teeth. Still, he doesn’t wear a mouth guard.

“My mom wouldn’t want to hear that,” Ott said. “They probably spent $5,000 on braces.”

Numbers to chew on

The Academy of General Dentistry advises athletes to wear mouth guards, citing the following statistics:

An athlete is 70 times more likely to sustain damage to teeth when not wearing a mouth guard.

Almost one-third of all dental injuries are due to sports-related accidents.

During a single season, athletes have a 1-in-10 chance of suffering a facial or dental injury.

Mouth guards prevent 200,000 injuries in high school and college football.